Of all the honorifics attainable in this world—Colonel, Highness, Grand Archduke—perhaps the most prized is Miss Universe, which fittingly evokes an otherworldly beauty. Who better to wear the title than M.J. Lastimosa, a perennial crowd favorite who radiates grace, compassion and good cheer in addition to her stunning looks? Recently crowned Miss Universe Philippines, M.J. is a computer engineer and a longtime Meatless Monday advocate, staunchly supporting personal health and environmental stewardship. M.J. will compete for the coveted Miss Universe title this June. In the meantime, we caught up with her to talk food, the Philippines and her meatless mission.
You don’t see many computer engineers winning national beauty contests. Can you tell us more about your path to becoming Miss Universe Philippines?
It was very unplanned! Maybe it’s true that we are destined to do things we never imagined. During my geek-ish days as an engineering student, never did I look at the mirror and see myself wearing a Miss Universe Philippines crown and sash. But I believe all these are happening for a reason. It may have all happened fast but I know I’m walking into my own purpose in life.
You’re very familiar with the pageant, having entered and placed twice before. What are the most demanding aspects of pageant life, and how do you deal with them?
Giving up your privacy and accepting the fact that all your actions can make or break you. There are certain behaviors a beauty queen should do and we should do it with all our heart. I embraced the beauty queen life and practice the attitude of gratitude everyday, and with that I am able to deal with all the things I face from the day I entered the competition.
What roles do diet and nutrition play in your approach to the circuit? Are there any special meals you prepare in the days and weeks leading up to a big event?
Good food can affect your mood—when the inner you is healthy and happy it radiates to the outside, and thus you become more energized and ready to own the day.
As much as possible I would only eat whole food. I love salad so much, and I would always research recipes since everything is accessible online. Restricting the processed and salty food also helps to make you feel lighter and will make you look radiant and fresh, which is necessary during the whole pageant duration. But it is not something special that I would only do during the pageant—I practice it everyday! It is a lifestyle for me.
How has Meatless Monday helped you on your journey, and how would you like to see it develop in the Philippines and abroad?
Meatless Monday is a very inspiring movement. I was a silent advocate of it prior to learning about it, but being able to support the group is an honor. It can help and save many people from future sickness. Now that I have a crown on my head, I can use it to speak up and let the people realize that food can lead us to different diseases but can also cure us; it’s just a matter of knowing what and what not to eat.
One of Meatless Monday’s great pleasures is exploring the diverse plant-based cuisines of participating countries. Do you have any favorite recipes native to your home province of Cotabato?
Cotabato would always celebrate the fruit festival every year to show gratitude to the bounty of fruits that we have in our province. Organic fresh fruit salad, such as pomelo salad, is one of my favorites.